Friday, 30 May 2014

Phenology - May

"Here we go gathering nuts in May
Early in the morning"
(traditional nursery rhyme)

Except of course we don't. There are no nuts in May, stupid.
There are knots of may:

A knot is a flower cluster.
In May, the Hawthorn (or May-Tree) comes into flower and turns the hedges white again. Traditionally it's supposed to be for the 1st (May Day) which was a St. Mary / pagan mother goddess festival involving young people pairing up and getting all tra-la-la in the greenwood, but changes in the calendar have wrecked that somewhat. I generally reckon the hawthorn is first in full bloom between the 4th and the 12th. This year it was early.

May blossom has an ambiguous reputation - it was considered incredibly unlucky to bring it inside the house because "Hawthorn smells of death". It's quite true. Depending on the individual tree, and how old the flowers are, hawthorn can smell sweetly floral, or reek of carrion. It can also smell markedly sexual, which probably ties into its fertility/goddess/courtship connection.


By the end of May, even on a bad year, pretty much all the trees are in full leaf. The very last trees to put on their summer clothes are the oak and the ash. Supposedly this foretells the summer weather:

"If the oak before the ash
Then the earth will get a splash 
If the ash before the oak
Then the earth will get a soak"

 This year the ash came in last - someone needs to tell the rain it can stop now!

Talking of smelly flowers, May is the time for ramsons, which stink of garlic,
and cow parsley, which takes over every piece of unmowed verge in the country:

Cow parsley may be my favourite English plant of all. Its dusty smell is so quintessentially British, it takes me right back to childhood summers every time.

More decorative are bluebells:

It's been a fantastic year for them, apparently

and the big candles of horse chestnut:

Lots of white flowers, right?

Here come the daisies

Even the dandelions have turned to white fluff:

"What time is it?"

But they are swiftly replaced in the Yellow Meadow Flower Calendar by buttercups:

"Do you like butter?"
In fact, it's the month of the year when, rain or shine, you just can't stop plants waving their disgusting genitals all over the place.


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